Grief and Guilt During the Holidays

For some, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Everywhere you turn, there’s holiday cheer: sparkly decorations, upbeat Christmas carols and a general happy buzz in the air as everyone anticipates one of the biggest holidays of the year.

But when you’re grieving, the holidays can be a hard time. My dad died shortly before Christmas on December 22nd, 2010 when I was 14. Ten months later, my grandfather died on October 12th, 2011. As a result, I begin to feel like a dark cloud has formed over my head around Thanksgiving, getting darker and stormier all the way through Christmas, and it only begins to dissipate after New Year’s. This time of year is associated with a lot of tough memories of my dad’s illness and the deaths that drastically changed my life forever.

Christmas was and continues to be, a special time for my family. Growing up, we had a lot of special traditions that we did around the holidays, from our annual Christmas tree decorating party to playing games on Christmas Eve. Over the years, these traditions have changed, and even though it’s bittersweet celebrating without my dad, it’s still a time of year that I look forward to.

But ever since my dad died, I’ve felt guilty enjoying myself around the holidays, especially given that he died so close to Christmas. I’ve felt like instead of trying to have fun during the holidays, I should focus on my loss and what I’m missing. As if, because my dad can’t enjoy Christmas anymore, I shouldn’t be able to either.

Recently though, I’ve been feeling differently. In the last few years, I’ve felt more at peace with my grief and I’m able to look back fondly on memories with my dad. While I’m still devastated that he’s gone, and some days are hard, I’ve realized that feeling guilty and forcing myself to be sad and somber doesn’t accomplish anything. I know that my dad would have wanted me to be happy and to continue enjoying Christmas, just like we did together when he was alive. I’ve learned that I can remember my dad in other ways, like through activities that we did together or by watching movies or eating foods that he loved.

For anyone who’s grieving this holiday season, know that you don’t have to feel guilty for enjoying the holidays. As hard as it can be, just because your loved one is gone doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the same things you did when they were alive. Things will change, but as cheesy as this sounds, your loved one will always be with you. If you’re struggling, try to come up with one thing to do to remember your loved one and honour their memory, whether that’s with your family or by yourself. This could be anything, from getting an ornament for them, to taking a walk in the snow, to baking a treat they liked.

Enjoying yourself during the holidays doesn’t have to be synonymous with your grief—you’re allowed to do both. Be kind to yourself this year. And Happy Holidays.